Few things taste so good, require so little effort, and make you feel like you really cooked dinner.
Evan used to be the chicken roaster in the family. I gave him Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for Valentines Day one year, and he mastered her roasted chicken with lemons. Then time passed, Esme came along and soon we didn’t have the luxury of the European dinner schedule (e.g., dinner at 10 or so), and Evan's roast chickens kind of fell off our menu. It was one of those weird things that happen to couples (or maybe just happens in my marriage) where something becomes the “territory” of one partner. Cutting edge pop music, abstract art, and roasted chicken with lemons are Evan’s turf.
Then one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco, Zuni, came out with a cookbook, and in it is one of the easiest roast chicken recipes ever. They have you wash it up, sprinkle it with salt and then let it hang out in the fridge for a good long while. Turn your oven up to 450 to 500F, plunk in a skillet to let it get real hot, and then after about 10 minutes put the chicken in it, breast side up. Check on it after 15-20 minutes to make sure the temperature isn’t too high or too low. Turn it over after 30, roast for about 20-30 minutes and then turn it over again for a few minutes until it reaches the right temperature.
Notice how I avoided telling you what temperature to roast it to. I read Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts, and she got me all crazy about what happens when good food goes bad. Maurice, my father-in-law and cooking mentor, got me one of those thermometers that you stick into the thigh of the chicken and the thermometer has a long coil that plugs into a digital display (which is kept outside of oven) that buzzes obnoxiously when the meat hits the "right" temperature—175F.
Now the roast chicken is in my court. I butterfly chickens and cook them flat, I make them do acrobatic things on beer cans and put them on the grill, I stuff them with garlic, rosemary, or whatever. I just don’t do them with lemons.